By James R. Otteson, John Meadowcroft
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Extra info for Adam Smith
119. Smith uses “brethren” 20 times in TMS and “brothers” 14 times. For detailed discussion of spontaneous-order explanations and their relation to and use in Smith, see Craig Smith (2006). Consider, for example, the perhaps superstitious convention of never stepping on the foul line when taking the field: most major league baseball players observe this convention, though it is not part of any rulebook. Hume wrote, “Tho’ the rules of justice be artificial, they are not arbitrary. 19; emphasis in the original).
But gravity would appear to be “action at a distance”—that is, one thing affecting another thing when they are not touching in any way—which many had thought to be impossible, or at least in need of an explanation. Newton’s account seemed to some to be “occult,” describing the effects of gravity without saying what, exactly, gravity itself is. It thus sounded to some as though he was not really describing the cause at all, only describing its effects. indd 23 10/13/2010 1:45:22 PM 24 Adam Smith Even if Newton could describe the motion of the planets, unless he explained what gravity itself is and how it works he leaves the impression that it works via some magical (hence “occult”) powers.
On the other hand, he also seems to assume an epistemological skepticism: we can never be sure that the scientific model of the world we have is actually the correct one. We can know that it explains this or that set of data, we can know that its implications, if it is true, are thus and so; we can even know that no known observation contradicts it. And we can know that it satisfies the psychological anxiety that anomalies or unexplained events produce in us. All of that would give good reason to believe the hypothesis in question, whatever it is.
Adam Smith by James R. Otteson, John Meadowcroft